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The Truth, Mainly - 03/13/2006

We're number one—in unprotected sex

There it was in big bold type at the top of page one of the March 1 Journal-Star: "Report: Nebraska ranks last in preventing unintended pregnancies."

There was no exclamation point at the end, but I guess when you tell your readers that your state is last in the whole country in preventing unplanned pregnancy, no exclamation point is necessary. And "We're number fifty!" might seem an ironic exultation.

Being last in the whole country is no trivial accomplishment. The U.S., the report says, "has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the industrial world. Half of the 6 million pregnancies that occur among U.S. women each year are unintended."

The story beneath the Journal-Star headline tells us of a study by the Guttmacher Institute of "each state's efforts to serve women in need of contraceptive services, the allocation of public funds for family planning and laws and policies that promote access to contraceptive information and services."

And we come in dead last. Go Big Red.

The story tells us that more than 198,000 women—more than half of the 366,000 Nebraska women of child-bearing age—need contraception services and supplies." Otherwise we're likely to stay at the bottom of the heap.

Doesn't do much good to look to our northern border for a remedial example. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds last week signed a bill that bans all abortions except when a woman's life is at risk. In cases of rape or incest, the woman has to go ahead with the pregnancy. Here's Molly Ivins' take:

South Dakota "has now staked its claim. First to Outlaw Abortion This Century." The legislature "in all its wisdom and majesty" has "usurped the right of the women of that state to decide whether or not to bear the child of an unwanted pregnancy."

Happy birthday.

But there's good news on the horizon. A week from today, on March 20, Wal-Mart stores will begin selling—nationwide—the "Plan B" pill. Prior to this month Wal-Mart has sold the pill only in Massachusetts and Illinois, and in those two states only after the state governments ordered the sale.

"Rather than try to fight these bouts state by state," a Wal-Mart spokesman said, "it just seemed like the right time to begin to sell emergency contraceptives."

(Before this month, Wal-Mart has generally been a whipping boy for liberals. Look for it to become a liberal favorite next week.)

You understand the significance of the title, "Plan B," don't you? It's the plan that follows the failure of "Plan A"—avoiding sex altogether. "Plan B" is also called the "Morning After Pill."

It's been a controversial pill in large part because its opponents label it "an abortion pill." But it's more accurate to call it "an anti-abortion pill" because it works only in the first 72 hours after unprotected sex—before pregnancy exists and thus before there's anything to abort. Here's what Time Magazine's March 5 internet page says:

The Truth, Mainly


The pill works "by preventing ovulation and fertilization. It can also inhibit a fertilized egg from implanting itselt on the wall of the uterus….it can do nothing to end an existing pregnancy.

Jackie Payne, a Planned Parenthood spokesman, said in the Feb. 27 Washington Post that Plan B opponents were mounting an "active attempt to blur the line and confuse people about emergency contraception—saying it's abortion when it's not. Our job is to explain how emergency contraception avoids later abortions, and is in fact a win-win for everyone."

The point being that Plan B isn't really an abortion pill. It prevents abortion by preventing the necessary pre-pregnancy internal action that comes after intercourse and before pregnancy.

But, I can hear some saying, sex for the sake of sexual pleasure only is immoral because making babies is the sole legitimate goal of sex.

Let me say it again: The Plan B pills won't end an already functioning pregnancy. According to the Planned Parenthood of New York website, while the pill "can substantially reduce the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, it cannot terminate an already established pregnancy."

Once Wal-Mart begins selling Plan B, watch its competition follow suit. I'm guessing sales will be especially vigorous in South Dakota.

And who knows? With Plan B available, Nebraska may be able to crawl out of last place in the race to prevent unintended pregnancies.

I know it sounds sacrilegious but that might make us feel even better about ourselves than winning a bowl game makes us feel.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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